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TMX Broadcast Centre in downtown Toronto October 22, 2013 2013.Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Here's a vivid reminder of the cutbacks in the business of trading shares in Canada: The number of people subscribing to real-time feeds for stock data from the country's major markets plunged last year to its lowest level since 2006.

Who needs those real-time feeds? People who try to make a living in the trading business, whether they work on the dealing floors of big banks and boutiques, or in their home offices. The subscription base is a proxy for the number of people who are interested, one way or another, in actively trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange or the TSX Venture Exchange. That also includes analysts, bankers and anyone else who can make a case for why they or their employer should pay the subscription fee.

TMX Group Inc. disclosed on Wednesday that there was an 8 per cent slump "in the average number of professional and equivalent real-time market data subscriptions to Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange products." That is by far the steepest drop in the past eight years, and takes the number down to 139,939 from 151,799 in 2012.

The doesn't mean there are suddenly 12,000 fewer traders. Some securities firms are likely cutting back on the number of data feeds to pare costs, taking them away from people who don't need them and forcing people to share. That number reflects some combination of expense and staffing reductions.

The drivers behind the frugality are a lack of profitability overall at many small and medium sized securities firms. That in turn is caused by a cyclical downturn in resource stocks, as well as a more sustained decline in the profits on trading floors caused by lower volumes and reduced commissions.

Looking at the trends in the number going back to 2006, they accurately reflect the trends in the Canadian equities business. There's a runup in 2007 as the markets crest before the financial crisis, followed by a smaller uptick in 2008. In 2009, as the effects of the crisis and market crash hammer traders, the number plunges. More people subscribe in 2010 as the business recovers. But for the last three years it has been an accelerating decline.

2013 - 139,938

2012 - 151,799

2011 - 157,255

2010 - 159,572

2009 - 153,119

2008 - 162,000

2007 - 160,000

2006 - 139,000

(The numbers are as reported in year-end management discussion and analysis filings from the company.)

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